Formed a year ago, the Frankie Knuckles Foundation is dedicated to the advancement of Frankie Knuckles‘ mission as the global ambassador of House Music through media, conservation and public events continuing and supporting the causes he advocated.
Founder, president and executive director Frederick Dunson takes us inside the Foundation ahead of their fundraiser in celebration of Frankie’s Birthday at Smartbar, highlighting their mission to preserve the legacy of the Godfather of House Music.
When did the Frankie Knuckles Foundation begin, and why did it come about?
The foundation came out of a need to have Frankie Knuckles’ estate watched over, first of all. If you remember, it was at some point after his passing that “Frankie Knuckles memorials” and events started popping up. It wasn’t just here but everywhere. Money that was raised wasn’t going anywhere it was supposed to go.
Czarina [Mirani] was the only person asking legitimate questions. She asked and hosted an event that was above board, and from which all of the money went where it was supposed to go.
I remember talking to Judy Weinstein from Def Mix at some point and said out loud what I was thinking, which is that someone needs to pay attention to all of these things. I had been considering retiring from my day job – Frankie actually suggested I do so two years earlier – when the topic came up between Joe [Shanahan], Randy [Crumpton] and myself.
Last year around this time, I decided to sit down with legal counsel and decided that this is what we’ll do – set up a foundation that would launch initiatives preserving Frankie’s legacy, supporting the genre, advocating for the causes he believed in and so on. That was a year ago – December 9, 2014.
And here you are. I’m a bit confused about the difference between Frankie’s estate and the foundation, but you’re the person in charge of both of them and his intellectual property?
Yes, the estate came before the foundation, though it’s now migrating with the foundation. If there’s a request to use his name or likeness or anything like that – for instance, there’s a request for an award to be named in his honor – the foundation will approve it.
What has the foundation done so far?
We’ve done a few panels on the history of House Music, at the Stony Island Arts Bank and at SoHo House, which is part of the foundation’s educational purpose.
A big part of our mission statement is to conserve and preserve. Much of the time in the first year has been spent getting the legal details taken care of, but our major accomplishment is the installation of Frankie’s vinyl at the Stony Island Arts Bank. As an act of “conservation,” it’s an important aspect of what we’re trying to do.
Frankie’s whole life was playing records. When he wasn’t playing records he wanted to be playing records. He was emotionally dependent on it.
There’s been a lot of interest in this installation. Where did the idea to exhibit his vinyl there come from?
Frankie and I had been in conversations with an institution, the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia, and he’d considered loaning his vinyl there. We toured around where it would be housed. The idea lingered until his untimely passing. We decided that we needed to move forward with that idea. Randy first came up with the concept. We met with Theaster Gates of the Stony Island Arts Bank and from that conversation decided to do something with the vinyl.
Are you pleased with how it’s turned out?
Yes, I am. To have it as this interactive sort of “presence” is unique.
Frankie would have been happy that the collection is located here in Chicago. He wanted that very much. And it’s not on a shelf gathering dust somewhere. And I’ve been pleased by the association with Theaster Gates and the Arts Bank as well.
I’m sure everyone has suggestions on what you should do, and so do I! I’ve talked to a lot of people who have a frustration that there isn’t anything we’ve been able to do on a structural level to help some of the founders of House Music who have gotten older and can’t work. I know the health issue of is something Frankie spoke of — in particular, about having to go on the road and have the debate whether or not he could turn down gigs when he was ill…
You know it’s so funny you bring this up. Earlier this year someone sent me an interview with Frankie, and the interviewer asked Frankie what he would do when he slowed down. He talked about running a “home” for older DJs with me. There’s an actor’s home like this run by the Academy out in California – a home for retired actors who need a place when they’re up there in years.
When I read this, I couldn’t do anything but laugh. That was so Frankie to think up this idea … and it was so Frankie to commit me to it without asking me!
But you know, Frankie’s whole life was playing records. When he wasn’t playing records he wanted to be playing records. He was emotionally dependent on it. Playing records and making music, which to him were related – that was what he thought about. He did start to slow down as he was older, which is when the production work really got started. But this idea about making a hostel or a home for retired DJs, with guys playing music and hanging out and a ballroom off to the side… I could hear him saying all of this and I could envision him putting it together!
On a serious note, what do you envision or dream of the foundation doing in the future?
I envision us doing a number of different things. With the new year, we want to embark on supporting many of the causes that Frankie was passionate about, and that’s musical education in schools, AIDS outreach and education, LGBTQ youth homelessness, and diabetes research, education and prevention. Aside from this fundraiser Smartbar, we’re holding events in April at the Arts Bank and in the Fall at Expo Chicago.
Besides funding, I also envision the foundation as a catalyst to promote the genre of House Music, bring new talent forward and letting the music be heard. Among young people, you have a gap in education about what House Music is, and true House Music vs. EDM. They’re not the same thing. They’re apples and oranges. I think the mission of the Foundation includes this.
And there’s the movie – it’s not gone away and after the first of the year there will be a lot of activity taking place. These things raise awareness of Frankie and help preserve his legacy. The foundation is really engineered to not let these things fall by the wayside.